SHERIFF'S CORNER: 'Did you just see a real bright light?'

In this edition of the Sheriff's Corner, I am going to address laws regarding headlights. This is in response to an email I received from a citizen who posted several questions on the brightness of headlights, LED light bars and fog lamps. This will solely relate to passenger vehicles, not commercial vehicles.

MCL 257.684(a) states:

"Every vehicle upon a highway within this state at any time from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise and at any other time when there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead shall display lighted lamps and illuminating devices as hereinafter respectively required for different classes of vehicles, subject to exceptions with respect to parked vehicles as hereinafter stated. When lighted lamps and illuminated devices are required by law no vehicle shall be operated upon any highway of this state with only the parking lights illuminated on the front of the vehicle."

So, you need to have working "headlights" when it is not only dark, but when it is close to dark. Driving with only your fog, parking or amber lights does not meet this requirement. Most newer vehicles have daytime running lights that stay on most of the time, during all hours of the day. This does not aid in you being able to see another vehicle, but they are on to make you more visible. Daytime running lights are not specified in the law, but more of a consumer safety option.

MCL 257.685(2) states:

"...a motor vehicle shall be equipped with at least 2 head lamps with at least 1 head lamp on each side of the front of the motor vehicle..."

Let's address a "head lamp" as defined under the law.

There is debate on whether or not the "lamp" is referring to a single bulb. This comes into play when addressing LED lightbars. An LED lightbar has several lights which are intended for off-road use, and not for normal roadway traffic. If you take this in consideration, then LED lightbars are not legal. When the law was written, LED lightbars did not exist. We have to rely on what the intent behind the law is. It has been our practice that these cannot be used on the road. Also keep in mind when it says, "on each side of the front of the motor vehicle."

MCL 257.685(4) states:

"Every head lamp upon a motor vehicle shall be located at a height measured from the center of the head lamp of not more than 54 inches nor less than 24 inches above the level surface upon which the vehicle stands."

Remember the '80s, when everyone had those cool "KC" lamps on their trucks? Do you also remember that they had to be covered when the vehicle was on the road? Under the law, there is a specific height requirement for head lamp lighting which states "not more than 54 inches." Regardless of lamps or otherwise, anything higher than 54 inches, would be illegal.

Remember this says "head lamp" meaning not a combination of roof lights and headlights on the front of the vehicle.

MCL 257.685(5) states:

"When a motor vehicle equipped with head lamps as required in this section is also equipped with auxiliary lamps or a spot lamp or any other lamp on the front of the motor vehicle projecting a beam of an intensity greater than 300 candlepower, not more than a total of 4 of those lamps on the front of a vehicle shall be lighted at a time when upon a highway.'

(Note: 300 candlepower is equivalent to 3770 lumens).

Have you ever wondered why, when you are running with your headlights and fog lights on, that when you turn on your high beams your fog lights turn off? The law specifically says "not more than a total of 4 of those lamps" shall be operated on the roadway. When the high beams are on, this is generally using 4 lamps, so if the fog lights stayed on, you would be using 6 lamps, which would be illegal. This also provides more contention that the intent behind the law is "lamp"-specific.

MCL 257.700(b) states:

"Whenever the driver of a vehicle approaches an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet, such driver shall use a distribution of light or composite beam so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver."

This relates to the flashing of high beams at oncoming traffic. Technically, you cannot flash your high beams if the vehicle is closer than 500 feet.

MCL 257.699 also requires head lamps to emit a white light, with "high beams" of intensity to reveal persons and vehicles at a distance of at least 350 feet ahead, and "low beams" of intensity to reveal persons and vehicles at a distance of at least 100 feet ahead.

In summary:

• Headlights on at night, as well as dusk and dawn.

• No more than four forward-facing white lamps on at a time.

• No LED lightbars on the roadway.

• Headlamps should be easily seen, but not blind you.

• No flashing of high beams when a vehicle is close.

This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to

As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.